Bluffton girl living with heart disease: “it doesn’t define you”

One in four deaths in the United States each year is caused by heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it’s the leading cause of death for both men and women. That’s why the Palmetto Heart Walk aims to bring awareness and raise funds for heart disease. This cause is especially close to one Bluffton girl’s heart.

Ryan Elizabeth Walls is an 11-year-old fifth grade girl on a mission. She was diagnosed with congenital heart block before she was born, but you can’t tell from looking at her. She’s active, walking, running, and swinging with her mother and sister. She just recently completed a 3K. She lives with a pacemaker.

“It’s no news that any parent wants to get, that there’s a problem with your child in some way,” Ryan’s mother Meredith says of her diagnosis.

“In 2004 when I was pregnant with Ryan, it was discovered that her heart rate was very, very low,” Meredith Walls says.

Walls says it was her full-time job to carry Ryan, taking care until Ryan was able to undergo surgeries as soon as she was born.

“She was actually born six weeks early, and 45 minutes later she was in surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where we were living at the time, for her first implantation of a pacemaker,” she says.

It’s given the family a goal, to raise awareness for heart disease.

“It was really difficult, but at that moment you have a choice, you can let it negatively affect you or you can just become your child’s biggest advocate,” she says.

On Saturday morning in the 2016 Palmetto Heart Walk in Hilton Head, Ryan will walk for another reason beyond awareness and fundraising.

“I think that it’s important for me to walk, so that I can show like people who are- be born with CHD that it won’t, it’s not, you’re not held to it,” Ryan says. “It doesn’t define you, in that you can move on from it and be yourself.”

“You don’t have to feel different, or weird or awkward around other people, to just be yourself,” Ryan says.

So far, there’s been just short of $78,000 raised by the heart walk. Ryan’s team has 15 walkers, but there’s still time to sign up. Festivities begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Shelter Cove Park. The walk steps-off at 9:30 a.m.

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